Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Pasta alla Norma

A few years back my husband and I had the huge pleasure of visiting our good friends, Joe and Francine D'Anna, at their home in Sicily. While we were visiting I discovered a fabulous dish I had never heard of and absolutely fell in love. The name of this dish has an interesting story. Supposedly it was created in the 1800's by a chef from Catania and named after Vincenzo Bellini's opera-Norma, considered to be one of his most beautiful and lyrical. Legend has it, writer Nino Martoglio, exclaimed after tasting Pasta Norma for the first time-That is a true Norma, referring to Bellini's beloved opera. It makes a good story anyway!

I served with large slices of grilled eggplant on the side.
This classic Sicilian dish contains only a few ingredients and as with many old, traditional favorites has some regional variations, but always contains: eggplant-either roasted or fried; tomato sauce; short pasta like ziti or rigatoni; fresh basil; Ricotta cheese-either Ricotta Salata (salted and dried and grated into the dish) and/or fresh Ricotta, spooned into the dish just before serving, and finally Grana Padano, which I could not get so used a nice Romano, which is similar. I decided to use Lidia Bastianich's version, as she is one of my favorite Italian chefs.

Ingredients:
1 pound Ziti (I used Rigatoni.)
2 large firm eggplants, about 2 lbs. total
2 Tbsp. Kosher salt for salting the eggplant, plus more to taste
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 jars (25 oz. each) Lidia's Chunky Eggplant Tomato Sauce (I did not have her sauce so used a jar of Classico Tomato Basil.)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup grated Grana Padano (I used Romano.)
1 cup fresh basil, shredded
8 oz. (1 cup) fresh ricotta or packaged whole-milk ricotta
Preparation:
Trim the stems from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel about 1 inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. (I peeled the whole eggplant.) Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes and toss in a large bowl with the 2 Tbsp. of Kosher salt. Dump in a colander, and let drain for about 1 hour. Rinse and drain thoroughly and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with 3 Tbsp. oil. Turn the eggplant cubes onto the baking sheet, toss to coat with oil and spread them in one layer. Bake until the eggplant is very tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant gently once or twice during baking so they cook evenly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat for the pasta. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter in the garlic and cook shaking the pan until golden, about 3 minutes. Pour in tomato sauce, add pepper flakes, season with salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Stir the pasta into the boiling water. Return to boil, stirring frequently. When it is al dente, about 8 minutes, drain the pasta and return it to the pot over low heat. (I like to leave a small amount, about 1/4 cup, of pasta water, which mixes nicely with the sauce.) Remove the pot from the heat, stir in 1/2 of the grated cheese and the basil. Add half of the roasted eggplant and toss to combine thoroughly.
Gently add the Ricotta in heaping teaspoonfuls. You want the Ricotta to warm, but not blend completely with the sauce.

Plate the pasta and spoon the reserved sauce over each serving; then divide remaining eggplant on top of each pasta plate. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and serve.

In Sicily this dish would be served as an appetizer.

I thought a nice light dessert would follow this hearty pasta dish so made a Kiwi Sorbet. I had a few near overly-ripe kiwis, which I didn't want to throw out. Of course, I thought I was the first to make Kiwi Sorbet, but a quick internet search told me otherwise. My version is a little different, but could not be any more simple.
KIWI SORBET

Ingredients:
6 ripe kiwi's
1/4 cup simple syrup

I did not want a super sweet simple syrup since the ripe kiwi's had a nice sweetness of their own so used a 1 to 1 ratio water to sugar. Melt the sugar in the water over low heat until dissolved. That is simple syrup.

Preparation:
Peel the kiwi's either with a paring knife or cut in half and scoop out the fruit, which I think is easier. Blend the fruit with 1/4 cup simple syrup.

Chill the kiwi liquid for a few hours or overnight and then churn in an ice cream maker.
I only had 6 kiwi's so this made a scant 1/2 quart of sorbet. You can double or triple if you like. Use a proportionate amount of simple syrup.

ALL FOR TODAY!
 
PLEASE JOIN ME AGAIN SOON
FOR ANOTHER EPISODE OF...










Saturday, April 18, 2020

EASTER 2020 AND THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC...

Our Easter celebration certainly was different from past years. No big hoo-doo dinner. No gathering with dear friends, but my husband, Jerry and I, still managed to find some joy in this special holiday. We started with a decadent pancake breakfast.
 
GOOD OLD-FASHIONED PANCAKES
These pancakes were fluffy inside and perfectly
crisp outside. Serve with lots of butter and real maple syrup.
Ingredients:
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten

Preparation:
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients and add melted butter and egg. Mix thoroughly, but do not overmix the ingredients. If the mixture is too thick (It should be pourable.) add a tablespoon of water one at a time until your batter is just right. Heat heavy bottomed skillet (I like to use cast iron.) until very hot. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in the pan and when it is very hot either pour batter or spoon out batter to form 3" sized cakes. Turn only once after the batter begins to bubble. Serve immediately.

This year's Easter menu was humble, but delicious. I made a spicy, smoky version of Osso Buco using liquid Mesquite smoke, one chipotle pepper in Adobo, and a big squeeze of Gulyaskrem-Hungarian Pepper paste.


Find a more traditional recipe for Osso Buco here: http://cookwithcindy.blogspot.com/search?q=osso+buco

Osso Buco is a slow cooked rustic dish braising meat and vegetables together making a thick and luscious sauce. I used the last of the lamb shoulder from The 47 Ranch. I omitted the wine as I only had really fancy wine from Flying Leap Vineyards and decided to drink rather than cook with it.
Flying Leap Vineyards is currently offering a free delivery
service, which I took advantage of.
The wine was delivered by none other than
President & CEO/Co-Founder, Mark Beres.
https://flyingleapvineyards.com/
I served the Spicy and Smoky Osso Buco over Risotto with caramelized leeks and parmesan. Our veg was grilled zucchini with parmesan. We ate al fresco, as we usually do Easter dinner, on our back deck.
 
 
Dessert was a simple lemon-key lime sherbet. I'd love to do a big Easter dinner this summer or fall; whenever it is safe to gather again.

I want to share another simple, rustic dish that I made this week.

MOUSSAKA
 
Moussaka is an eggplant and/or potato dish made with ground meat, often lamb, but there are many local variations. It's origins are Arabic, cum Greek, cum Baltic, cum Turkish. In other words many countries claim its origin and each country has different variations, but for sure it always contains meat and eggplant. Because I am not shopping as often as usual, I made my Moussaka with the ingredients I had on hand.

Ingredients:
2 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 3/8 inch slices
Salt for the eggplant (more salt and pepper for the dish)
1 Tbsp. plus 1/4 cup olive oil (for frying eggplant)
4 Tbsp. butter (1 for sauting the meat; 3 for mashing the potato)
1/2 pound ground beef
1 Italian sausage, out of casing
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. combination finely chopped fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley
1/3 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan
More parsley for garnish
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed

I topped the Moussaka with a B├ęchamel sauce, which would be more like what you would find in Greece. The creaminess of the sauce melts into the mashed potato as the Moussaka bakes.

Preparation:
Peel and cook the potatoes. Mash with 2 Tbsp. butter and 1/3 cup Feta cheese and set aside.

Peel and slice the eggplant and lightly salt both sides to improve the texture and mask any bitterness. The salting draws out the moisture giving the eggplant a creamy, silky texture. Lay slices on a paper towel and let sit for about 20 to 30 minutes. After they have set, rinse, dry and set aside.

Heat skillet with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter. Saute onion and garlic (do not brown) and then add the ground beef and sausage. Salt/Pepper to taste. Cook for about 7-10 minutes. Do not worry if the meat is not cooked through as it will cook again when the spices and tomato are added and again when the Moussaka is baked. Remove the meat mixture from skillet and add a bit more olive oil. Cook the eggplant in batches, adding olive oil as necessary, until very tender. Remove the cooked eggplant from the skillet.

Add the meat back into the pan and add all spices, herbs and tomato sauce. Cook for about 20 minutes to meld flavors.

To assemble the  dish: Add meat in the bottom of a square casserole. Top the meat with half the parmesan cheese. Next, layer the eggplant and top with the rest of the Parmesan. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the eggplant and then, if using, top the entire dish with the B├ęchamel sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes until the Moussaka is bubbling and lightly browned. Garnish with fresh parsley.

In this time of Coronavirus I've been cooking and baking more than ever. Every other day I make some kind of sweet, which is my husband's favorite...sweets, that is, of any kind. This recipe is so simple and kind-of, sort-of good for you because of the oats.

BLACKBERRY JAM OATMEAL BARS
This is a Ree Drummond recipe-The Pioneer Woman. She uses Strawberry Jam.

Ingredients:
2 sticks butter (That is 1 cup.), cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
12 oz. your favorite jam. I used Blackberry, but strawberry, apricot preserves, blueberry, or any other jam would work well.
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 inch pan. Mix together the butter, flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. I used 2 knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is the size of small peas. Press half the oat mixture into the buttered pan. Spread the jam over the oats. Sprinkle the other half of oat mixture over the jam and gently press down the oat mixture. Bake until light brown-about 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely and then cut into squares. This is a fairly rich dessert because of all the butter so I cut small squares.

THAT CONCLUDES TODAYS COOKING OBSESSION...
 
PLEASE STAY HEALTHY AND ENJOY THE LOVE OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY FROM AFAR.
 
UNTIL NEXT TIME...

SOMETIMES I LIKE TO CONCLUDE WITH
SOMETHING APPROPOS TO NOTHING...

THIS MAGAZINE MOCK-UP WAS MADE BY MY GOOD FRIEND JO JO HAMMOND AT CHRISTMAS. I AM DRESSED IN MY MERMAID BLANKET, WHICH I RECEIVED FROM MY SOON TO BE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, ALISON GRAHAM WHILE I WAS RECOVERING FROM CANCER. THE MERMAID SYMBOLIZES MANY DIFFERENT THINGS IN DIFFERENT CULTURES. I BELIEVE SHE REPRESENTS STRENGTH, LOVE, AND MYSTICAL HEALING. APPARENTLY IT WORKED!